Kyle Kuzma dunks vs Denver

Lakers vs. Nuggets, Three Things to Know: May 3, 2021

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (36-28) face the Denver Nuggets (43-21) at Staples Center on Monday evening. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. on Spectrum Sportsnet.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

L.A.’s (UNFAMILIAR) LOSING
When Anthony Davis came back on March 22, and particularly when LeBron James followed on April 30, the Lakers may have assumed that they’d go right back to being, well, the Lakers. That has not been the case, however, as they’ve lost five of six games, and three straight, including Sunday’s 121-114 defeat by Toronto.

Dennis Schroder was the latest Laker to miss a game when he was ruled out due to health and safety protocols two hours prior to tipoff, with Alex Caruso starting in his place after he’d been out the previous two games (back spasms). Perhaps most troubling about the loss, however, was that the big Raptors run came in the final four minutes of the 2nd quarter, when L.A. had a familiar lineup on the court: Davis, LeBron, Kuzma, KCP and Caruso. Toronto outscored them 22-6 to close the half with a 13-point lead, and the Lakers couldn’t dig their way out.

Vogel opted to hold LeBron out for the final few minutes due to a sore right ankle that James said afterwards felt good in the first half of his first two games back, but was stiff coming out of halftime both nights. As a result, he’s a question mark for Monday’s game.

NUGGETS STREAKING IN OTHER DIRECTION
While the Lakers have really struggled to find themselves, Denver has won five straight games, and impressively, 9 of 10 since point guard Jamal Murray tore his ACL. Nikola Jokic has been at the center of their success all season, but Michael Porter Jr. has also taken a leap, leading them in scoring in four of their previous six games. Meanwhile, Facundo Campazzo has totaled 37 assists in his previous five contests, providing supplemental playmaking to passing-leader Jokic.

P.J. Dozier has been getting the starting nod with Will Barton also out injured (hamstring), while newcomer Austin Rivers has joined with previously-out-of-rotation Shaq Harrison as a reserve guard tandem, getting key minutes with typical backup PG Monte Morris on the shelf (hamstring) as well.

GETTING CONNECTED
After Sunday’s loss, Kyle Kuzma said the Lakers were lacking connection with one another, and that they weren’t playing together as a whole. That connection was certainly there earlier in the season, and obviously, throughout 2020-21. Of course, a few things help establish connection that haven’t been there of late: winning; and continuity. When the Lakers had LeBron and AD both on the court prior to AD’s injury, they were 17-6. Since they’ve returned together, for two games now, they had a new starting center for both games, and a new rotation piece in Ben McLemore, with Schroder and Caruso swapping availability in the two games. Marc Gasol got some backup 5 minutes in the loss to Sacramento, while that role was held by only Harrell against Toronto.

And yet, as Anthony Davis explained, the time for excuses is running out with the playoffs approaching fast, and only eight regular season games remaining:

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